Research Magazine 2006

Study examines U.S. communication in Middle East

Mid-east art

Radio Sawa broadcasts contemporary programs targeting 18- to 34-year-olds in the Middle East. The American-sponsored station hopes the programming will foster positive attitudes about the United States in a region where hatred toward Americans flourishes.

UT Arlington communication Assistant Professors Tom Christie and Andrew Clark want to find out if it’s working.

“You hear Radio Sawa all over the Middle East, but do listeners feel it’s trustworthy?” Dr. Clark asked. “This is a critical piece of the puzzle. Is the news taken as credible?”

Recently, a student returned from Iraq and told Clark he heard Radio Sawa throughout the country—in cars that passed him and on radios in retail shops. The station seems popular, but many Middle Easterners don’t listen. The professors are researching who the non-listeners are and why they’re tuning out.

Clark and Christie’s experience with Radio Sawa led to a study about the messages on leaflets dropped by coalition forces during the current Iraq War.

They discovered three main functions of the leaflets: to counter disinformation, to facilitate communication and to effect survival. They predicted that the majority of leaflets dropped among the Iraqi people would contain survival messages, which was true. Some read, “Coalition forces do not wish to harm the noble people of Iraq. To ensure your safety, please avoid areas occupied by military personnel.”

“These leaflets have a major impact on public opinion because civilian and military casualties directly relate to public opinion,” Dr. Christie said. “The leaflets are designed to reduce civilian casualties, thereby improving public opinion.”

In conducting the content analysis, Christie and Clark encountered difficulties obtaining the leaflets and trying to discover how to measure their effectiveness in changing that public opinion. The methods used to study results usually involve focus groups and surveys, but these aren’t practical during a war.

A $10,000 UT Arlington Research Enhancement Program grant will aid with assessment, as will a $5,000 grant from the Public Relations Society of America. The funding will purchase questions crucial to the research on a major survey being composed by a Middle Eastern survey group, the best option for Clark and Christie due to cultural and funding limitations. The survey will let them examine the question of reliability and credibility in international communication efforts.

“There are a lot of deep attitudes we don’t understand,” Christie said. “We need to educate ourselves about this.”

— Kim Pewitt-Jones